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Will Putin's Aggression Keep 30 Environmental Activists in Prison?

The Greenpeace activists imprisoned in Russia for protesting oil drilling in the Arctic are up against a proud Putin hungry for an energy grab.

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Joris Thijssen, campaign director at Greenpeace Netherlands,  said: “The decision of the Russian Federation not to attend the hearing is a departure from its previous respectful engagement with the Tribunal. Russia is not formally obliged to participate in the hearing. However, it is under an obligation to comply with any ruling, which the Tribunal may make.”


Time, however, reports that when signing the UN Convention, Russia gave itself a backdoor not to be held to the Tribunal’s rulings. Even so, Lipman said that “The international law has the power of ruling, but there is no mechanism to enforce it.”

In the meantime, the Arctic 30 remain in a rundown jail in Murmansk. “It must be an unbelievably terrifying experience for them,” said Ames, who has seen pictures of the inside of the prison.

In its latest developments, Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council will appeal the Head of the Federal Investigative Committee to offer themselves as guarantors for the Arctic 30 to be released on bail. In a press release, Greenpeace  stated, “This is an extremely significant gesture by the Presidential Human Rights Council, as they are putting themselves forward personally to guarantee that the Arctic 30 will comply with bail conditions.”


Ames believes that the activists will eventually be released. He said, “I do think eventually the pressure will work, but I think they are going to go pretty far to send the message that this is not going to be tolerated.”

MacDuff said that while Russia is the world’s largest oil producer—responsible for 13 percent of global output—it has been  deemed “by far the worst oil polluter in the word.”

It is estimated that at least 1 percent of Russia’s annual oil production, or 5 million tons, is spilled every year. This is equivalent to one Deepwater Horizon-scale leak every two months. A Pew Environment Group  report found that oil companies' plans to clean up spills in the Arctic were "thoroughly inadequate." Greenpeace has  stated that the "Arctic's extreme weather and freezing temperatures, its remote location and the presence of moving sea ice severely increase the risks of oil drilling, complicate logistics and present unparalleled difficulties for any cleanup operation."

MacDuff said tens of thousands of people have rallied outside embassies in more than 40 countries, and nearly two million people have sent protest letters to their respective Russian ambassadors. And while the situation for Greenpeace is currently still very real, she said, the incident won’t stop the organization, adding that throughout history, the state has responded with violence toward people desiring to stand up to it. This doesn't stop movements, she said, but instead shines a light on their importance.

“We have fought some very difficult challenges before. And we will continue to fight governments, polluters and people who put profit before people.… So will we carry out more peaceful protests to shine the light on the real obscenity of drilling for oil in a melting Arctic in order to burn more oil in order to melt the Arctic? Absolutely.”

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.